Practice Notes

The solution to physician burnout? EHR optimization.

by Hamza Hasan and Daniel Kuzmanovich

Today, 80% of health care leaders say physician burnout is a problem at their organization. To confront the problem, many leaders turn to solutions that focus on individual physicians in an attempt to improve their resilience. However, these physician-directed interventions prioritizing wellness aren't as effective as addressing the primary causes of physician burnout—causes that, according to Medscape's 2018 Physician Burnout and Depression Report, include:

  1. Too many bureaucratic tasks;
  2. Spending too much time at work;
  3. Lack of respect from co-workers and/or administrators; and
  4. Increasing computerization of practice, or the EHR.

EHRs: The largest driver of provider burnout

And while Medscape identified "too many bureaucratic tasks" as the primary driver of physician burnout, physicians in our own research actually said the EHR was the biggest cause of burnout—because that's where they spend too much time completing bureaucratic tasks. In the words of one medical group leader: "Before the EHR, physicians still had to do things they didn't like. With the EHR, they have to do all those things in one place in a more difficult, time-consuming format."

If leaders want to address physician burnout at their organization, they must reduce the EHR's burden on their clinicians.

EHRs pose 2 clear challenges

Based on our research, there two primary pain points between physicians and the EHR that drives much of physicians' time-related burnout:

  1. Physicians don't know how to efficiently use the EHR: With too many workflow options and insufficient training, physicians know only a fraction of the EHR's functionality, so they struggle to use the tool effectively; and

  2. Working in the EHR takes too long: The design of some EHRs—and the regular updates that eliminate customization or knowledge—make it difficult for physicians to work efficiently. As a result, the EHR simply requires too much time and burns clinicians out.

2 ways to reduce the EHR's role in burnout

To combat burnout, leaders must optimize the EHR for their physicians. Since an individual physician's EHR- or efficiency-related burnout stems from one or both of the above challenges, there are two key ways for leaders to resolve the issue:

  1. Identify those physicians who don't know how to efficiently use the EHR: Most EHRs now allow leaders to track physician EHR use and efficiency. Leaders can pair data from those efficiency reports with targeted physician education to improve efficiency, reduce burnout, and send a powerful message about the organization's commitment to supporting its physicians; and

  2. Consider what factors make working in the EHR take so long and how to mitigate them: Are physicians consistently interrupted by unnecessary EHR alerts? Are there tasks that other members of the care team should be doing so physicians can work at top of impact? Should the organization consider documentation support like scribes or voice recognition to ease physicians' charting? Once leaders identify what forces physicians to spend so long working in the EHR, they can determine feasible, scalable solutions and begin to deploy them.

While these steps are certainly not easy or quick, they are critical. Leaders nationwide have recognized the importance of tackling burnout—and optimizing the EHR for greater clinician efficiency is the lion's share of the work required to succeed in that task.

4 key strategies to mitigate physician burnout

preventing burnout

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